Presentation Title

PTSD: How it hijacks and rewires a victims brain

Faculty Mentor

Dr.Michael Harnett

Start Date

17-11-2018 8:30 AM

End Date

17-11-2018 8:45 AM

Location

C161

Session

Oral 1

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Subject Area

biological_agricultural_sciences

Abstract

Keywords: Trauma, Hormones, Stress, Brain Plasticity, Physiology

Trauma has been highlighted immensely in our current societal state. It has been researched on endlessly due to its complexity, but do we truly understand the effects of trauma beyond the psychological aspects? What actually happens to the brain when it experiences an immense amount of stress? When our bodies are placed in such vulnerable situations, our brain is flooded with excess levels of hormones in attempt to survive the trauma.This short term response for survival results in long term damages to a victim's brain and its functions. The most prominent changes being in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and anterior cingulate cortex which are responsible for memory, thinking logically, fear regulation and emotion control.

When these areas stumble across significantly high levels of stress a common theme that appears throughout the brain is the change in lobe size and levels of activity falling out of normal ranges, which is possible due to the human brain's plasticity. Victims lose the ability to discriminate between present and past memories prohibiting the trauma from being processed and stored as long term memory. An overactive amygdala causes fear to be felt in environments that contain no threat. The decrease in volume in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex results in disturbances in rational thinking and self awareness.

With all the new insight there is regarding trauma, it is possible to begin to alter our approach towards treatment of post traumatic stress disorder. New drugs that aim towards aiding the affected structures of the brain will result in more precise forms of treatment rather than just treating the visible psychological disorder. If we don’t switch our approach towards trauma recovery, we will just continue fighting with the superficial layer of PTSD.

Summary of research results to be presented

The first step towards approaching this research was understanding trauma and how there is various ways an individual can experience trauma. I gathered my data from analyzing various scholarly journals that were focused on the biological aspects associated with trauma. Whether it was a traumatic brain injury or an individual experiencing abuse, the toll trauma has on the body is identical. When the body realizes it’s in harm or unsafe the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands get stimulated. This stimulation results in hormones being released such as, catecholamines, cortisol, and oxytocin. Due to such a high concentration of hormones being released in attempt to survive the situation, it becomes difficult for the amygdala and hippocampus to process and encode the memories regarding the traumatic event. The excess in hormone levels also results in a decrease in volume size of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus which prohibits the execution of their daily functions. Activity levels of the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex spike resulting in trauma victims being incapable of efficiently regulating their emotions and detecting threats. The depression, anxiety, and personality based disorders all arise due to this imbalance within the brain. These changes may be treated with modified medication that aims to increase volume size and decrease activity levels of trauma specific areas. In order for these medications to be created there needs to take place multiple biopsies and hormone level data gatherings of trauma victims to construct the most impactful and precise form of treatment.

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Nov 17th, 8:30 AM Nov 17th, 8:45 AM

PTSD: How it hijacks and rewires a victims brain

C161

Keywords: Trauma, Hormones, Stress, Brain Plasticity, Physiology

Trauma has been highlighted immensely in our current societal state. It has been researched on endlessly due to its complexity, but do we truly understand the effects of trauma beyond the psychological aspects? What actually happens to the brain when it experiences an immense amount of stress? When our bodies are placed in such vulnerable situations, our brain is flooded with excess levels of hormones in attempt to survive the trauma.This short term response for survival results in long term damages to a victim's brain and its functions. The most prominent changes being in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and anterior cingulate cortex which are responsible for memory, thinking logically, fear regulation and emotion control.

When these areas stumble across significantly high levels of stress a common theme that appears throughout the brain is the change in lobe size and levels of activity falling out of normal ranges, which is possible due to the human brain's plasticity. Victims lose the ability to discriminate between present and past memories prohibiting the trauma from being processed and stored as long term memory. An overactive amygdala causes fear to be felt in environments that contain no threat. The decrease in volume in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex results in disturbances in rational thinking and self awareness.

With all the new insight there is regarding trauma, it is possible to begin to alter our approach towards treatment of post traumatic stress disorder. New drugs that aim towards aiding the affected structures of the brain will result in more precise forms of treatment rather than just treating the visible psychological disorder. If we don’t switch our approach towards trauma recovery, we will just continue fighting with the superficial layer of PTSD.